Favorite Fruit Varieties at the Farmer’s Market

fruit_from_Farmer's MktAt this time of year it’s easy to get the recommended 9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. That’s the latest recommendation from the new dietary guidelines released by the Dept. of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. The farmer’s market is brimming now with lots of locally grown produce. I find it nearly impossible not to overbuy, everything looks so yummy. At the beginning of the year I wrote about great varieties of fruit trees available to plant in your home orchard. From heirlooms to old favorites there’s nothing like picking fresh from the tree. Walking around the Felton Farmer’s Market the other day I thought I’d check out what the growers thought were the best kinds and why in their opinion.

Red, ripe strawberries first caught my eye. Jose, told me he grows Seascape Seascape_strawberriesstrawberries in La Selva Beach. His farm is on a well so the dry winter didn’t affect their plants but the recents showers did. The berries absorbed too much water at one time and are not as sweet this week as a result. Esther, a grower from Moss Landing, said she likes the variety Albion at this time of year because they are really sweet and hold up well. Her farm will start harvesting Seascapes later. She said her area didn’t get any showers recently but the March rains caused the berries to rot and the whole crop ready at the time had to be picked and thrown away.

The apricots next got my attention. I love apricots. These beautiful orange colored fruits are full of beta-carotene and fiber and are one of the first signs of summer. I found out from David from a farm in Sanger, California in Fresno County that apricot season only lasts for 7 weeks. His farm grows 6 different kinds including Red Ruby, Castlebright, Patterson, Queen Sweet, Royal Flame and Blenheim. He said his favorites are Royal Flame, Queen Sweet and Blenheim. After tasting some of the the delicious Royal Flame samples I am looking forward to his other favorites.

And then I was in peach and nectarine heaven as I sampled my way through the farmer’s market. David didn’t have to tempt me much with his aromatic samples of Saturn white peaches, which are his favorite. Another booth from a farm in Hickman featured White Lady peaches. Corona said his favorite, the O’Henry freestone, will be ripening soon. I was amazed to learn that this farm grows 100 different varieties of peach and nectarine. His favorite nectarine? Not surprisingly, it’s the Red Top, a yellow fleshed nectarine and the Arctic Rose, the white variety he just happened to have ready with samples available.

Pluots have always been one of my favorite fruits. They are second generation hybrids of plums and apricots although they closely resemble plums. According to UC Cooperative Extension in Sacramento County  pluots are one of the best choices for backyard trees. The flesh is unusually sweet and juicy with complex plum-apricot flavors and the skin in without the bitterness found in the skin of regular plums. I’ll be looking for Dapple Dandy and Flavor Grenade as the season professes.

After taste testing my way through the various booths I came away with way with probably too much fruit and vegetables to eat in one week but I’ll force myself with a huge smile on my face. When I look and smell all the luscious produce I bought maybe those 9 servings per day aren’t so much after all. Just so you know, nine servings translates to about 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables every day.

Gardens are for Healing, Kids and Pets

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA garden is the perfect example of the circle of life. A garden is nature’s way of taking and giving back life to the earth.  A garden represents the infinite nature of energy. I am reminded of this as my best friend lost her dog to cancer recently and within a day my niece gave birth to her first child. A garden holds hope. And it can heal our sorrows.

I am in a garden every day. Sometimes it’s the garden of friends I’m enjoying or helping a client with theirs or strolling a public garden and of course, I am in my own garden daily. Wherever I go I receive something from the experience and try to leave some positive energy there. The events this week have me thinking about what makes a garden that heals? And on the other side of the circle of life what’s important in a kid and pet friendly garden?

Through our history gardens have been used to aid in the healing process. Japanese Zen Gardens and Monastic Cloister gardens are good examples of this. Viewing natural scenes helps us reduce stress and negative emotions and replaces them with positive feelings.

To make your garden look better and make you feel better when you’re in it pay special OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAattention to plant selection. Allow the plants to dominate with a minimal amount of hardscaping. Choose plants that are fragrant, colorful or soft to the touch. Plants that attract wildlife make a garden a happy place. Simple, bold mass plantings are more comforting than a wild mix of many varieties. Leave that to the cutting garden. Enclose the space to keep your thoughts inward and peaceful.

It’s just as important if you have children and pets to create a garden that is calming and relieves stress.

Picking plants for a backyard that is shared with dogs is especially important if your dog naturally nibbles on greenery or berries. Some plants are lethal while others can cause OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAillness or vomiting. I was surprised to see so many common plants on the ASPCA website that could cause problems like carnations, primroses and geraniums. What’s safe for us like grapes and avocado are not good for dogs. Check the list to make sure the plants your are considering are safe for your dog.
http://www.aspca.org/Pet-care/poison-control/Plants?plant_toxicity=toxic-to-dogs

Plants near paths should have soft foliage without thorns and spines which can cause eye injury.  Brittle plants like salvias should be in the center where they’ll be protected.  Densely planted areas are usually avoided by dogs but planting in raised beds or mounds help, too. Pieces of driftwood placed at the front of a border will discourage them.  Start with one gallon or larger plants that can stand up to a little roughhousing.

Kid friendly gardens should not contain plants that are poisonous. Sounds like a no brainer but even some of our common natives like the berries of snowberry and the leaves of Western azalea are poisonous.  Non-toxic plants include abelia, abutilon, liriope, butterfly bush, Hens and Chicks, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis and black-eyed Susan. Better to check the poison control website if in doubt.
http://www.calpoison.org  and search “plants”.

What makes a great experience for a kid in the garden? In a nutshell, you can teach children of any age about beneficial insects in a garden and other wildlife.  Older kids can identify and nibble edible flowers like calendula, dianthus, nasturtiums, pansies, peas and beans. Grow flowers that kids can cut like zinnias and snapdragons and plants to touch that are soft and furry like lamb’s ears.

Kids, even older ones, like hiding places, so grow one in the garden.  You can plant tall growing sunflowers in a circle, leaving a space for a “door” that kids can crawl through once the flowers have grown.  Or build a simple teepee out of fallen branches or long gardening stakes and plant bean seeds around the outside.  Scarlet runner beans are also good and have tender, young pods like green beans in addition to bright red flowers that attract hummingbirds.  Beans grow fast and soon make a great secret hiding place.

Make your garden one everyone can enjoy.

Good Cut Flowers to Grow in Shade or Sun

mixed_bouquet.2048I have a shady garden so each flower on a shrub, tree, perennial or annual is a precious commodity. I wish I had more so that I could walk out into the garden and gather armloads of fresh flowers to decorate the dinner table with big bouquets. Most flowers last longer outside on the plant that when cut and I haven’t planted enough for cutting and to enjoy in the garden, too. This year I’m going to do something about that. There are beautiful flowers to grow in the shade as well as the sun that are also long lasting in the vase.

For starters I can take some tips from a bouquet that recently graced a friend’s table. It magenta_clematis.1600probably won’t come as a big surprise to you that many of my friends are also garden designers like I am. The beautiful mixed bouquet I admired was comprised of both flowers and foliage. White calla lily, magenta and white clematis and wisteria along with branches of blooming white spirea and viburnum snowball were the stars of the bouquet. Lacy spikes of coral bells and lilac columbine filled in between. Mauve colored hellebore and tulips rounded out the arrangement. Clearly I was impressed.

If you are looking to increase your cut flower potential like I am here are some suggestions. For starters it’s always good to grow perennial plants that come back every year but self sowing annuals are also great so don’t forget to plants some of those also.

In shady gardens, fragrant daphne odora is a wonderful small shrub. Sweet olive or osmanthus fragrans is a large evergreen shrub or small tree with blooms that smell like apricots.  Oakleaf hydrangea foliage and flowers look great in bouquets and the leaves turn red in fall which is an added bonus.

Our native shrub philadelphus lewisii, also called mock orange, has flowers that smell like oranges and it will grow in some shade as well as sun.

Cooke's_purple_wisteria.1600In sunnier spots I’m going to plant carnations and dianthus because I love their intense clove fragrance both in the garden and in bouquets. Chocolate cosmos is always on my list. Who doesn’t love the smell of chocolate? Lemon verbena and scented geraniums are other great bouquet candidates.

Penstemon are good for cutting and the tubular flowers attract hummingbirds in the garden. Kangaroo paw don’t require much water to grow their unusual fuzzy tubular flowers. Coreopsis attract butterflies as are long lasting in bouquets. Used to be that coreopsis only came in bright yellow with maybe a bit of brown as an accent but now they are available in pinks, white, lilac and palest yellow.

Add more coneflowers, dahlias, gloriosa daisy, delphinium, foxglove, scabiosa, mimulus, aster, shasta daisy and yarrow to the perennial garden so you have extras for cutting then look to self sowing annuals that are easy to grow. Some that make good cut flowers are bachelor buttons, clarkia, cosmos, flax, love-in-a-mist, nasturtium, spider flower and calendula.

Annual flowers such as zinnia, lisianthus, snapdragon, statice and marigolds are great in containers where you can make every drop of water count and are also good for cutting.

To make cut flowers last,  pick them early in the morning before heat stresses them.  Flowers cut in the middle of the day will have difficulty absorbing enough water.  Take a bucket of tepid water with you and place stems in it as you cut.  Indoors, fill the kitchen sink with cool water and recut each stem underwater. The pull off any foliage or flowers that will be below the water level in the vase.  You’ll be amazed just now long your flowers will last when you cut them under water.  It’s worth the extra step.  Now fill a clean vase with 3 parts lukewarm water mixed with 1 part lemon-lime soda, 1 teaspoon vinegar, and a crushed aspirin.  Another recipe for floral food to add to the water is 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 tablespoons white vinegar , 1/2 teaspoon bleach in 1 qt water.  The sugar helps buts open and last longer, the acid improves water flow in the stems and the bleach reduces the growth of bacteria and fungus.  Change the water and recut the stems every few days to enjoy you bouquets for a week or maybe even two.

The “Chicken Palace”, Shade Veggies and UCSC Arboretum Visit

aster-like_flowers_UCSC_arboretumWe humans used to be mostly foragers and obtained our nutrition before the end of the last ice age by being hunter-gatherers. According to David Christian in his book ‘This Fleeting World’, agriculture arose independently in multiple, unconnected areas of the world in roughly the same historic timeframe. Foragers, he says, lived comparatively leisurely lives with good nutrition, working just a few hours each day, while those in agricultural communities toiled almost ceaselessly and had comparatively poor nutrition. What happened to make us the agricultural society we are today?

Christian points out that the end of the ice age occurred at the same time that foragers migrated around the globe. Warmer, wetter and more productive climates may have increased populations in some regions with increased population pressure. It may explain why, in several parts of the world, beginning about ten thousand years ago, some communities of foragers began to settle down.

The rest is history. Many of us are returning to growing and producing our own food whenever we are able. Even on a small scale, a garden, a few fruit trees, a chicken or two or three, all help to put healthy, nutritious food on our table.

The other day I was in a garden I helped create and saw the results of her edibles mixed chicken_palace.1600in with ornamental plants and fragrant flowers that attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators to the garden. Her “chicken palace” would be the envy of every chicken in the county. Annie, the dog, was more than happy to show me how it was made with boards from the old barn, new corrugated iron siding along with some new wood. Their palace keeps the chickens safe from predators and sheltered from the elements. The best feature is the roosting spot near the top which can be easily accessed from doors that checking_for_eggs.1600open at deck level to check for eggs. On this morning two of the girls were “working” so we didn’t disturb them.

Earlier in the week, I visited a garden where the only place available to grow vegetables was a little shady. Huge cottonwood trees shaded much of the area and even when thinned the trees would always block some of the sun. We decided she could grow cherry tomatoes that ripen even in part shade on the east side as most of the sun that reached the area fell from mid-day on. Also she likes green beans, so a bush variety would conserve space and not block the sun to other vegetables. There are so many bush beans available. She’ll pick from 8 different organic varieties available from Renee’s Garden Seeds. With mouth-watering names such as Royalty Purple, Tricolor Bush,
the favorite of gourmets, Nickel Filet, and the French yellow Roc D’Or she’ll have a hard time deciding.

Other vegetables that will produce without sun all day long include spinach, bush peas, kale, chard, lettuce and root crops like beets, carrots, potatoes and radishes. They may take a bit longer to mature without full sun so be patient.

I rounded out the week by visiting the UCSC Arboretum. Regardless of the time of year, Fremontodendron_californicumwhenever I pass by this jewel of a garden I always stop by to see what’s blooming and what the birds are up to. I had dropped by in February before the rains came and was a little concerned that the December freeze compounded by the lack of rain had stressed the plants. They were in survival mode and it didn’t look like they were going to be putting on their usual spectacular spring display. It was happy to see that the rains came in the nick of time and everything was now blooming away. Vivid lilac, aster-like flowers absolutely covered some low shrubs.

California flannel bush or fremontodendron californium were covered with bright yellow flowerss in the California Natives garden. A low growing species that may have been Pine Hill from the Sierra was also in full bloom.  All daisy-like flowers_UCSC_arboretumwere breathtaking.

Before I left I also enjoyed a stand of arcotis-like pink daisies that bordered the South African and New Zealand gardens.  With no name tags to help me identify them I could only enjoy their beauty but then isn’t that what it’s all about?